Alcohol vs guns

Tyler Cowen:

I would gladly see a cultural shift toward the view that gun ownership is dangerous and undesirable, much as the cultural attitudes toward smoking have shifted since the 1960s.

I am, however, consistent.  I also think we should have a cultural shift toward the view that alcohol — and yes I mean all alcohol — is at least as dangerous and undesirable.  I favor a kind of voluntary prohibition on alcohol.  It is obvious to me that alcohol is one of the great social evils and when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make sense to me.  It remains one of the great undervalued social movements.  For mostly cultural reasons, it is now a largely forgotten remnant of progressivism and it probably will stay that way, given that “the educated left” mostly joined with America’s shift to being “a wine nation” in the 1970s.

Guns, like alcohol, have many legitimate uses, and they are enjoyed by many people in a responsible manner.  In both cases, there is an elite which has absolutely no problems handling the institution in question, but still there is the question of whether the nation really can have such bifurcated social norms, namely one set of standards for the elite and another set for everybody else.

In part our guns problem is an alcohol problem.  According to Mark Kleiman, half the people in prison were drinking when they did whatever they did.  (Admittedly the direction of causality is murky but theory points in some rather obvious directions.)  Our car crash problem – which kills many thousands of Americans each year — is also in significant part an alcohol problem.  There are connections between alcohol and wife-beating and numerous other social ills, including health issues of course.

It worries me when people focus on “guns” and do not accord an equivalent or indeed greater status to “alcohol” as a social problem.  Many of those people drink lots of alcohol, and would not hesitate to do so in front of their children, although they might regard owning an AK-47, or showing a pistol to the kids, as repugnant.  I believe they are a mix of hypocritical and unaware, even though many of these same individuals have very high IQs and are well schooled in the social sciences.  Perhaps they do not want to see the parallels.

That's Cowen at his best, and the whole thing is well worth a read.

My younger sister was driving to pick me up at the airport in Chicago years ago and a drunk driver swerved into her Prius and spun her out on the highway in the middle of traffic. Luckily no other car was approaching fast enough to hit her after her car spun out, but the thought of what might have happened is so terrible as to be unthinkable for our entire family. The drunk driver flipped his car over but also survived.

On the one hand, I'm glad new car share services like Uber and Lyft exist now as they probably decrease the likelihood that people drive drunk when it's inconvenient to hail a cab (I've lived in many major cities in the US, and hailing cab was only something I ever counted on in Manhattan).

On the other hand, maybe that is offset to some degree by increased drinking overall. The cultural glorification (or at least forgiveness) of drinking to excess is troubling. We tend to attach some heroic narrative to feats of overconsumption of alcohol, recounting the attendant ridiculous behavior as humorous narratives, when perhaps we should be amplifying the perpetrator's sense of shame to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.